Thursday, 10 December 2015 Filed in: Travel | Shanghai | Public Transport
I had an amazing bike. I bought it when I moved back to Ireland from Singapore and I had grand plans about cycling into work in St. Stephen's Green from our house in Stoneybatter. I got a semi-customised Trek bicycle with special hand grips (no idea of the technical name) for people with sensitive wrists. Eoghan had a Trek too so it was important to me that we had matching bicycles as a sign of our commitment as a couple. I later discovered that having children with someone renders relationship-affirming-matching-cycles superfluous.
Anyway, I loved my bike. It had a bell and a basket and lots of gears that I didn't know what to do with. I loved it so much that I took my chances along the quays in Dublin every morning, wedged in between double deckers and trying not to employ my general approach to scary situations (i.e. closing my eyes and waiting for the danger to pass). I cycled to work in the rain, when I was tired, when I was grumpy, when I didn't feel like cycling. I gave it up after the first trimester of pregnancy (first time mothers do things like that) and my beautiful bike was relegated to a dusty corner.
The bike didn't get dusted off until Little A was 9 months old and we bought a bike seat for it. The seat had to go on my bike because Mr Oh had a road bike which was not suited to bike seats (so he told me). The weight on the back freaked me out as I cycled carefully down the cycle tracks of Brussels - slow, flat and safe - wobbling and occasionally wailing in terror.
I got better with the extra weight on the back and when we went on our month long road-trip honeymoon to Cork, Inishbofin, Cornwall and Normandy, we took our baby and our bikes with us. Finally, the bike was back in action, with a passenger this time…one that used to pull down my pants from his seat behind me and laugh uproariously as I screeched at him. He also liked to wriggle his feet free and use my coccyx as a foot rest. All was rosy for my beautiful bike.
And then we moved to Shanghai where I took one look at the traffic and bid the bike farewell. We moved the child-seat to Mr Oh's road bike which, miraculously, we discovered had been capable of carrying children this whole time (imagine that!). For a while, this was a good solution. And then Snugglepunk came along and it became clear that, at some point, I was going to have to get back on the saddle...literally.
But you know, two years is time enough for a bit of traffic desensitisation to set in so, a few weeks ago, I decided that I would rather cycle Snugglepunk the 5km to baby-school rather than subject us both to being flung around the inside of the overcrowded buses for half an hour every morning.
So, I went down to get my bike. It had been so long, it was hard to identify. I had to look at photos of my bike from our honeymoon to make sure I had the right one. But the weird thing was, it had recently been serviced and there was a lock on it that was not mine. Once we had decided this was definitely my bike, we put our own lock on in and that marked the beginning of the great bicycle standoff of 2015. This lasted approximately three days before the building management tipped me off that the person responsible for unlawfully requisitioning my bicycle was another building resident. I sent my heavies round to deal with him. Ok, I sent Mr Oh round to discuss the matter politely and, within minutes, my bicycle had been liberated and the great bicycle standoff of 2015 came for a rather anti-climactic end.
So, no excuses left, I strapped a rather perplexed Snugglepunk onto the back and off we went. We almost fell off before I even got out of the garage because...well, I forgot how to ride my bike and Snugglepunk was screaming like a banshee.
We almost crashed into a motorbike before we got out of the laneway because, you know, it's China, and almost is the key word anyway. And we were off. Within the first ten minutes, three people stopped me to tell me that Snugglepunk was asleep and shout at me because it was dangerous. He wasn't actually asleep, he was just examining a leaf which had become stuck to his knee but I just kept cycling shouting "it's not dangerous" and throwing them my best contemptuous glare - turns out its hard to throw contempt safely from a moving bicycle.
It occurred to me later that the reason the Chinese freak out when they see a child asleep on the back of a bike is because, generally, in China, the child bike seats don’t have harnesses. They don’t tend to put children this young on the back of bikes (unless on the lap of their mother who is sitting side saddle across the pannier). So, naturally, they think Snugglepunk is in danger of falling out. I’ve had a few long chats with Chinese ladies on bicycles while we’ve been stopped at traffic lights and I’ve explained to them about European bike seat engineering. They remain unconvinced. Some have even tried to poke Snugglepunk awake on the journey back from nursery (he has never once stayed awake for the whole thing).
There's one straight big long road from our house to Snugglepunk's nursery. We didn't cycle on that though because bicycles are banned from this road, for good reason. Chinese buses were the whole reason we were cycling in the first place because they are death-traps and the bus drivers are, without exception, angry lunatics who will plough into anything that crosses their path and enjoy randomly braking for no particular reason.
So, we had to make our way to nursery through a series of back streets, mostly cycling the wrong way down one-way streets. This is ok in Shanghai though. It would be foolish not to. My strategy was to hitch myself behind a slow-moving granny and just do what she did. Sometimes, the granny would do weird stuff like veer into oncoming traffic but, in these cases, I just made a judgement call.
Cars came at us from every direction, motorbikes laden with boxes careened out of driveways, scooters broke lights when we were crossing roads, people stepped off the pavement into our path right in front of us and at one point we seemed to be playing chicken with a flatbed truck. I kept my eyes open, my wits about me and I moved at the pace of a gently scampering cockroach.
Chinese traffic might seem crazy and dangerous - ok, it is a little bit crazy and dangerous - but there's a beauty in it too...something very reflective of Chinese society generally. Everyone is pulling out in front of other people, breaking lights, ignoring pedestrian crossings...but they won't hurt you (one hopes). They know you're there, they see you, they expect you. And if you cut them off, or pull out in front of them, or make them slam on their brakes, they don't get angry...they just shrug and get on with it. There is a kind of live and let live vibe on the roads.
It makes me think of a story I read a few years ago about a town somewhere that was getting rid of traffic lights and signs to make the roads less dangerous…and I think there’s something in that. In Shanghai, no one relies on a light to guarantee their safety or a sign to give them a right of way. Everyone is looking around, all the time, judging the safety risk, making calls…they’re just probably not doing it aloud like I do. I think it makes things safer generally. All surprise is no surprise! (This is a new phrase I’ve just coined and I’m going to use it liberally once I figure out what it means).
So, for a while, things were great. And then one morning, my bike wasn’t in the apartment bike garage (the one with a 24-hour guard outside and enough CCTV cameras to make a Sharon Stone movie). It had been stolen!
In fact, Mr Oh’s bike had gone missing a few weeks before but he didn’t get very far with our building in making a fuss, being stopped in his tracks by their claim that the CCTV footage “only went back 24 hours”. (Also he had left the bike unlocked and unattended for several days in the garage, feeling safe in the knowledge that no one in China would have any compunction to steal a bike with a frame they’d need a ladder to get on to).
Well, one bike gone could be chalked up to carelessness, but this was two bikes in a month! So I looked around and started shouting at the first person I saw.
No one else’s bikes had been stolen. Only ours, both of ours. I demanded to see the CCTV footage. They refused. I went down to the lobby every hour and shouted at whoever I saw there. I was just angry…and shouting felt good. I didn’t think it would make my bike come back. I banged on the security room door and asked to look at their cameras (ok, I knocked politely but they still refused to tell me anything).
But something happened, it seemed my shouting was working. They asked me to write down the value of our bikes, both of them. And then a few days later I was presented with a letter of apology and, in a very Chinese way, an envelope stuffed with money. I asked if they had seen who stole my bike on the CCTV footage. They said they had. I asked if they knew who it was. They looked to the side, giggled nervously and said “a stranger”.
I looked at the pile of money in my hand. I knew they knew more than they were saying. Something wasn’t right - I knew they wanted me to stop shouting and asking questions. I was being bought off. I was surprisingly ok with that.
I toddled off and bought a new bike. It’s orange and while I really wish my bike hadn’t been stolen in the first place…the best way to get over an old bike is to find a new one.
Tuesday, 03 November 2015 Filed in: China | Shanghai
(...on the off-chance you hadn’t noticed)
1. You need to turn on an invisibility cloak (VPN) when attempting to access the internet. The internet then thinks you're in Wisconsin and gives you all prices in dollars.
2. You are counted among the 0.001% of iPhone users who actually use Apple Maps over Google Maps because Google and China are fighting about something. You wish they'd make up.
3. You paid €15,000 to have your baby in an international hospital. You were slightly disappointed when the baby did not arrive encrusted in diamonds.
4. You wash a carrot four times, after peeling it and before cooking it. You still spend much of dinner-time thinking the carrot might be toxic.
5. You have been asked by total strangers how much your rent is. Sign that you've lived in China too long: you tell them.
6. You always put socks on your baby...even when it's 30 degrees outside. Because listening to the Chinese grannies telling you your baby's feet are cold is just - so - not - worth - it.
7. Everything you buy is imported, even though it's made in China.
8. You hide your stroller behind a tree when trying to hail a taxi because you know they won't stop otherwise.
9. You use your umbrella mainly to take angry swipes at cars that almost run you down.
10. You see the Avocado Lady more often than you see your husband.
11. Your 3 year old has a heightened sense of danger. You cannot decide whether this is a good thing or not.
12. While you insisted on Swedish rear-facing carseats for your children when you lived in Europe...now you just hold them on your lap as your rickety taxi careens through downtown traffic and you slide back and forth along the slightly slimey back seat. You pretend you're ok with this but inside you're weeping.
13. You get extremely excited whenever a taxi has seatbelts. The excitement dissipates after you touch them. Thankfully, you always carry hand sanitizer.
14. When outside your apartment, 90% of what you say to your children is 'DON'T TOUCH THAT!'.
15. You have to take out a bank loan to buy cheese.
16. You make your own yoghurt. All your friends make their own yoghurt. You talk about yoghurt a lot.
17. The most expensive things in your apartment are the air purifiers.
18. WeChat is your most utilized app. Facebook is mafan (see no. 20) and Whatsapp is nowt but a poor man’s WeChat.
19. You think the lead levels of your bath water are an acceptable conversation topic for a dinner party. The other people at the dinner party think so too.
20. Your English has become infiltrated by a smattering of Chinese.
- I'm not making dinner tonight - too mafan (troublesome). We're all having toast.
- Me (to Little A): Stop giving me mafan and get into the bath.
- Little A: The chongzis (insect) are biting me!
- Me: Well get over here and put on some wenxiang (insect repellent) then.
- Me: We're going outside now to play with your pengyous (friend).
- Little A: Mei you pengyous - no one's outside yet.
- Me: I need Jiu (alcohol)
- Mr Oh: What kind of Jiu do you need?
- Me: Eh...Putao Jiu (wine), Pi Jiu (beer), Bai Jiu (Baijiu)…any kind of Jiu really. Not fussy.
1. I know I swore I'd never write about anything pertaining to goldfish again but, as I'm discovering, goldfish are to young children what fixie bikes are to hipsters.
2. A flurry of white feathers just fluttered down outside my living room window. If I lived in a different country, I might investigate but as I live in China, I think it's best not to. Also, set to the background sound of the soprano practising her aria across the road in the Shanghai Conservatory of Music...the moment was quite dramatic, and weird.
So, last week I received an email from Little A's school informing me of the upcoming school trip and inviting me to attend. As is normal with Little A's school, the information provided was minimal. They would be going somewhere with "rollercoasters, water-rafting, gold-fishing and vegetable-picking". The thought of a clutch of 3-year-olds on rollercoasters and rafts in China (the 'in China' bit is important) set my A-dar blasting. (A-dar is the implant in my head that senses when Little A should not be doing something).
The school, while encouraging parents to go, weren't too happy about me bringing Snugglepunk along as well. They suggested I leave him at home (strapped into his highchair for the day with a supply of rice crackers perhaps?) and told me that it was too dangerous for a 1 year old (but not apparently for 3 year olds who are famous for being significantly more mature and world-wise than 1 year olds). It's not that I particularly fancied the idea of juggling two small children for the day, one of whom likes eating rubbish and the other who likes picking sticks off the ground and swishing them around in the faces of other young children while shouting 'I'm a pirate, ARGGGHHH...me hearties". But, I didn't want Little A to miss out on whatever it was that was happening and I certainly was not going to let him go under the supervision of the school which is well-meaning but generally chaotic and disorganised.
So, yesterday Little A, Snugglepunk and I set off on the school trip with two bags, one pram, two slings, two packets of baby wipes and about 300 rice cakes. It is impossible to have too many rice cakes.
Little A goes to an "international" school but it seems to be 90% Chinese. It's also supposed to be bilingual but I think it's bilingual in the way that all the Chinese kids speak Chinese and all the English speaking kids speak English and I don't sense a whole load of crossover. Little A never speaks Chinese in front of me so I’m never too clear how much he actually speaks and understands…more than me probably.
We took a tour bus an hour north of Shanghai which wasn't actually an hour north of Shanghai at all because it was still Shanghai...so perhaps better to say an hour north of my Shanghai. I had very little idea of what kind of place we were visiting, so at least my expectations were low. I had been on enough school trips with Little A to know that we needed to pack a lot of food. The school provided Little A with a "packed lunch" consisting rather randomly of two bottles of water, a banana, four mini "croissants" (i.e. bread rolls shaped like croissants) and two bread rolls shaped like bread rolls. I seem to use an inordinate amount of "quotation marks" when writing about China - maybe because things are often claimed to be things that we later find out are not the things they claim to be at all - if you get me. Little A and Snugglepunk had polished off the bread roll extravaganza before we even arrived so it's just as well I had also packed three tupperware boxes of sausage pasta, apples, juice and the 300 rice cakes. Small boys are hungry - I know this from experience.
We arrived at what seemed to be some kind of park. It was immediately clear that it was a very Chinese destination i.e. it was packed full of people and the bins were overflowing at 10am. The first mass activity of the day was a trip to the toilet (this is, after all, a class full of 3 year olds). The toilet was a ceramic trench with small dividers along the wall. There was no flushing, no water, no doors, no toilet paper. I've spent time in China so I was vaguely ok with this and knew that it was best not to dwell on it, not to breathe and not to touch anything. I'm seasoned at the way of the squat trench. Little A however was having none of it and refused to step near the trench. "I don't want to fall in", he said wisely and went outside to find a less offensive tree upon which to relieve himself. I made a mental note not to drink water again for the rest of the day.
The whole thing was a bit mental. There was a lady with a microphone and whistle whose job appeared to be to corral us like cattle. She also had a faded red flag raised high in the air that we were supposed to follow through the crowds of people and children all in their own groups, with their own red flags that looked entirely identical to our red flag. Every time we weren't doing what we should, she would start piping on her whistle and rabbiting down the microphone in Chinese. She was Captain Von Trapp in the squat body of a middle-aged Chinese tour guide, with a voice like a round-saw cutting metal.
The first "activity" (I'm starting to think I should just put quotation marks around the whole entry), was the "playground" which was, in fact a dated and decrepit amusement park. We had a jolly little ride on a squeaky train before Little A spotted a large swinging pirate ship and demanded that we go on it. I looked at the swarming mass of Chinese tweens pushing and clambering to get on the ride, which looked a bit rusty and didn't appear to have restraints and tried to jolly him off in the other direction. The only other rides were a spinning one with water guns and bumper cars. Little A took one look at the cars and said "I wanna drive car!". I thought "Well, that's not possible, he's only 3...surely he wouldn't be allowed on the bumper cars" but, you know, it's China so I don't know why I thought that, of course 3 year olds can go on the bumper cars! In fact, it turns out that 1 year olds are also allowed on them but some maternal instinct at the back of my spine must have kicked in because I decided that Snugglepunk was a tad too young to be bashed around in an electrified vehicle. My Chinese friend Kitty offered to take Aodhan on the bumper cars. While he was at first delighted, his joy turned to horror as he realised that the cars were crashing into each other and he started to get panicked. Kitty, however, managed to drive around the little bumper car arena in smooth circles avoiding all other cars and people while Little A sat frozen in terror beside her.
Thankfully, activity 1 was now over. Activity 2 was a "boat" ride. The "boat" was a series of bamboo poles tied together with benches strapped on top. The "life jackets" were pieces of orange material stuffed with something that may or may not have been buoyant. Apparently they also have no problem with one year olds on floating bamboo rafts although they had neither child nor infant versions of the possibly-though-not-necessarily-buoyant "life-jackets". Not wanting to be the neurotic foreigner who wouldn't participate, I gingerly stepped onto the raft clutching my two children, and chose a bench towards the back. Just after I got on, about 6 other families pushed their way onto our raft, including one that wedged themselves onto our bench. The gondolier-man shouted "too heavy!" so two more men jumped on. He shouted "too heavy!" again. I was about to volunteer to get off as the raft started listing precariously to one side and then, Tour Guide Von Trapp herself hopped on, shouted at the man with the pole and off we lurched into the middle of a lake of unknown depth. I looked down at the bamboo poles that separated us from the water and saw that they were now submerged and water was starting to pool around my shoes. If I had a picture of my face at that moment, I am entirely sure it would have been ashen. It's not that I can't swim, I can swim just fine, but the two little boys can't swim and didn't have life jackets, and the raft was slightly submerged with one side rising up out of the water. I was the only person concerned, apparently, as everyone else was chattering away and Tour Guide Von Trapp blew down on her whistle in a moment of, what seemed from my panic station at the back, to be exuberance and joy. Snugglepunk started to squeal and try to wriggle out of my arms. I forced a smile and looked down at Little A beside me. With my best jolly voice I said, "Isn't this fun? A boat!". He looked up weakly and said, "I want to get off". I nodded, gripped his hand and started trying to remember what I had learned in those two lifesaving classes I did when I was 14. Thankfully, it was a short boat ride.
Swiftly moving on to Activity 3...fishing. Sorry, "fishing". Fishing consisted of a series of large plastic tubs filled with water and terrified goldfish around which dozens of crazed children with nets were wedged, frantically trying to, ehm, fish. When a fish was caught, it was squeezed into a container of some kind, usually a waterbottle the diameter of which was less than the diameter of the fish itself. Sometimes they didn't bother adding water - it was grim. For proof - see picture below. I'm not big into animal welfare but even I was slightly horrified. Even so, I gave Little A a net, squashed him in between some older kids and let him loose, knowing that the freaked out fish were all huddled together in the centre of the tub, beyond the reach of his little arms. He caught nothing. Eventually, Tour Guide Von Trapp got on the whistle again and we all assembled under her frayed red flag. Little A looked around...all the other children had goldfish. He looked at me plaintively, "Where's my fish?", he wailed. And in a very Augustus Gloop fashion, he threw a net at me, pointed to the tubs and screamed "GET ME A FISH. NOW!". My little tyrant - so cute.
Normally, I would deal with this like a good parent, gently talk to him about his tone and help him deal with and understand his emotions. But I had been in that godforsaken park for 3 hours, I was sweating, Snugglepunk was screeching for food, i had at least 7 mosquito bites and all my good-parent-motivation was drowned in the lake. I picked up the net and took myself over to the fish tub. After a minute of failed fishing, I gave up. The net was too small, the children were pushing me and the fish were wiley. Unable to face the prospect of Little A's inevitable meltdown and the ensuing chaos, I looked desperately around for a solution. Kitty pointed to a man with a barrell. I gave the man 20 kuai (€3) and he gave me a little fish box with a handle and there were 7 little fish inside! A failure for parenting, perhaps, but a triumphant win for my afternoon sanity. Predictably, Little A was bored of carrying the fish approximately 3 minutes later so I was left to juggle baby in sling, fish in hand, buggy in other hand and small child trailing behind me whining that he wanted to go home.
Activity 4 was "peanut picking". Despite the fact that I had three Epi-pens in my bag, I did not feel like bringing my nut-allergic baby "peanut picking", quotations marks or not. Instead I spent 45 minutes milling around the rubbish strewn entrance, waiting for the group to finish the final activity and watching my children lick the railings.
Eventually it was over and we were back on the bus. Some parents had to take another bathroom break before we got back on the bus. It had been 4 hours since we had last been to the bathroom but I was holding it in. Kitty came back looking shell-shocked. She didn't want to speak about it. And she's Chinese - that's saying something.
On the bus, Little A turned to me and said. “I had a great time”. Confused I asked, “Did you like the bumper cars?”. “No.”, he said, “They were dangerous”. “Ok, did you like the boat?”, I asked. “No”, he said, “That was dangerous”.
“So, what did you like?”, I asked again. “Mummy came”, he said, before falling asleep against the window. Sniff.
So now we have our four fish, plus the seven from the school trip, two of whom are already dead. Current fish count: 9.
Likelihood that I'll never mention fish again in my blog: low.
I'm just going to get the bad news out of the way at the beginning...Orange and Other Orange are dead. They were as happy as two fish in a giant blue-lit filtered tank when we left for the summer. Mr Oh also did a stellar job at remembering to feed them occasionally when he was in Shanghai on his own. When he was due to join us in Ireland, he brought the fish into his office where they died. I don't blame them. Offices are no place for fish (or people really). Whenever I used to go into the office every day, sometimes I felt a bit green around the gills too. I didn't die though...I just had a string of children, moved to Shanghai and refused to go back. If only that option were available to pet goldfish.
Orange died first. I didn't ask how but I know that he made at least one attempt at fish suicide before his eventual demise. Other Orange did make it back to us at the end of the summer, but he didn't look great and it was clear that his time on earth was limited. Little A was delighted to be reunited with Other Orange and did ask me a few times where Orange was (actually he calls all fish that are not the one he is looking at at that particular moment 'Other Orange'). I dealt with this skillfully by looking at the ceiling and saying something reassuring like "Oh, you know...here and there..".
Then one morning, Other Orange was gone too. Mr Oh got up early and disposed of his body. That morning, Little A stood on his small giraffe stool, staring into the empty bowl from a variety of angles, as if Other Orange might be wedged under a pebble. "Where has Orange gone?", he asked (still flexible with the goldfish names). I took an executive decision that this would be a good time to discuss death with the 3-year-old. I think the clearer and more forthright we are about these issues the better. I looked Little A in the eye and I said, "Other Orange died". Little A looked at me for a long time with what I recognised as his thinking-hard-face (eyebrows scrunched, mouth slightly open, head cocked slightly to one side). I stood panicked in front of him - a million thoughts and regrets running through my head. Do we discuss heaven? Should I tell him that Daddy threw Orange in the black bin out the back? What if he cries? What if I cry? What have I done? Can I run away now? etc etc.
Little A looked at me and said "Where did Orange dive to?". A big wave of relief washed over me. The universe was giving me a life raft and I was going to take it. "Ehm...the ocean", I said with my best knowledgable look (which is not be confused with my making-it-up-as-I-go-along-look, to which it bears a startling similarity). "Like Nemo?", Little A asked. "Yes", I responded, "Just like Nemo."
"Oh", Little A said, apparently satisfied. "Orange has gone to play with Nemo and Nemo's Daddy in the ocean". I nodded persuasively.
"I want to buy a new fish", Little A announced. I was still nodding.
That afternoon, I set off across Shanghai with Snugglepunk, Little A and Ayi on a fish buying expedition. I had to buy more fish before Little A starting poking holes in my ocean diving story. The place one buys goldfish in this part of Shanghai is the Flower, Bird, Fish and Cockroach market. I don't think that's its official name, but it should be. It's an airless, windowless maze of tiny ramshackle stalls heaving with various things that move and swim and squelch and slither. The floor is slimey and it's best not to look down generally. Also best not to wear flip-flops but I'll know that for next time. With Snugglepunk on my hip and clutching Little A's hand in a vice-like grip to stop him running off to pet an iguana, we inched our way along the narrow alleys - Ayi leading the way, Little A trying to break free from me and me trying not to think about what just touched my foot. Snugglepunk was sitting happily aloft having a good look around and saying 'F-f-f-f' every time he saw a fish, which was every half a second.
Once we located goldfish corner, Ayi turned to me and said "No talking". I nodded and whispered "get 4 fish". Ayi then commenced to shout and point while I pleaded with Little A not to touch anything, not the floor, not the insects, not the slime covered fish tanks, not the birds, nothing. All I wanted was to get out of there with a few fish and no microbes of mutated tropical disease clinging to my children. We came home with 8 fish, 3 kg of gravel and big, pink plastic plant. I'm still not sure about the microbes.
We didn’t really get very imaginative with the fish naming. One was called Orange, one called Little Orange, then there was Other Orange 1, Other Orange 2, Other Orange 3, Black Fish (who was not orange) and Burt Reynolds.
The fish have not fared terribly well. One jumped out the first night. I found his lifeless fish-corpse lying on the floor in front of the tank. Mr Oh disposed of the body. Another was found floating in the top of the tank several days later. Mr Oh is a very good sport about his unsolicited role as fish undertaker. Things seemed ok for a few weeks and then I noticed that the fish all seemed to be infected with some kind of fungus that causes their fins to rot and open sores to appear on their body. I bought fish medicine but, alas, no amount of modern medicine could help those poor fish. One more died last night and Mr Oh bludgeoned another to death this morning to put him out of his misery. We're down to four fish and one of them has an ulcer on his head so I imagine he's next. It's become a real problem because although Little A's counting skills are rudimentary (he just counts the fish every time he sees them so at one point he thought there were 23 fish in the tank which, incidentally, is as high as he can count), even he will notice when we're down to three fish.
I need to source disease-free fish in China. I think online might be the answer. I am certainly not going back to the cusp of creepy-crawlie hell that is the slime market. I might try Taobao. I didn't think live fish was the kind of thing you would be able to buy online and have delivered but then I remembered that this is China...everything can be bought online and delivered. Even a live fox (see below, poor fox looks none too happy about finding itself in the online Chinese marketplace).
I should really just abandon my dreams of having a fish-filled house and just stop buying fish but the boys love them...and i have the stupid tank now. I promise I'm going to stop writing about goldfish soon.
Wednesday, 02 September 2015
I started writing my blog after the summer hiatus at the start of September. For me, my blog has always been a break from reality. No matter what's going on in the world or in my own life, I can always see the funny side of day-to-day life. For the first time in my life, I'm finding it hard to write about my own life without mentioning an issue which occupies much of my waking and sleeping thoughts...without feeling like it's slightly obscene that I might even make light of a daily situation while there is so much pain around us.
I'm also aware that, every minute of our lives, various horrors of which we are unaware are taking place across the globe. But this is one of which we are partially aware and I, for one, cannot get it out of my head....the situation of refugees from Syria (in particular, but not exclusively) trying to enter Europe.
When I was young and as idealistic as I was ever likely to be, I used to say that there was no such thing as an 'economic migrant', which was a popular phrase at the time. I was able, at that age, to imagine what it would feel like to uproot your whole family and move, without finance or security, to an entirely strange country, hoping for a better life. I had enormous respect for their bravery. I thought that the term 'economic migrant' did them an injustice, depicting them as vultures who preyed upon the taxes of others as opposed to human beings in need.
But somehow, over time, as I got older, I got used to closing my eyes, because it was easier...because I found looking too painful. I still find looking too painful. There's a man who sits on the side of the road near my home in Shanghai...he sits with a baby in a type of pram, who always seems to be screaming. I know the baby is deformed in some way...but I can't look...I've never looked so I don't know what's wrong with the baby. If I look, I know I'll be haunted by the image for weeks, maybe months or years. If I look, I'll give them all the money in my wallet, and more. But I'd be happy to do that if I thought that child would get the money...but I've seen the beggar-bosses swoop down and take the earnings of maimed children so many times in the past... I don't want to feed into it...but I want to help...but I know that, as I foreigner, I can't. It's paralyzing and horrific and the only thing I seem to be able to do is look away and burn with shame.
So, when I read and see the stories of families struggling to make their way to the EU and dying in the process, my instinct is to let it run over me...as if I were waterproof...as if it didn't exist...because I know that I can't actually process that kind of horror. I've gotten so accustomed to letting news stories wash over me while accepting only a brief dash of outrage or pathos..enough to make me feel human, like I'm an active and involved citizen-person...before I move on with my life.
But now - and maybe shockingly, only now - I can't get past it. I imagine my baby boys crying for me if I were taken from them. I imagine them having to crawl through barbed wire. I imagine them suffocating in the back of freight lorries. I imagine their small, pale bodies washing up on beaches.
It might sound terribly dramatic - and I wish so very much that this were not the reality for so many families right now - but that would be a different level of delusion entirely.
As a mother, I know, for a fact, that you do not take your children on broke-down boat heading for Europe unless the alternative is worse than a fairly strong chance of death. I cannot imagine having to make that decision, to take that step. I try to imagine what must have lain behind them to make any human take that risk...I can't.
And yet, despite their bravery, despite the horrors that drove them to us...we turn away. I turn away. It's something for governments to deal with, I can't do anything.
I do understand the pressures of migration. I do understand the fine balance. I do understand the needs of societies to instill continuity and security. I do understand the pressure on public services.
I know it's going to be hard but I am going to look. All those images I make my eyes blur over because I know they're going to upset me, I'm going to look at them. I have no answers. I have no magical solution. But, for me, the first step is just to look and not turn away.
These people are people. They're my sons, my babies. They're me.
[At the end of this, I still can’t tell you about the photo that broke my heart. And I can’t post it. Because I still can’t look at it. Even though I said I would look, I still can’t look for very long]
Wednesday, 02 September 2015 Filed in: Snugglepunk | Little A | Dublin | Shanghai | Mr Oh | Travel
And...we're back! We've all returned to Shanghai - Little A has returned to school - I've returned to checking the air quality every hour, retching on the street (the sound of spitting does it to me) and screaming "Don't touch that!" at least five times an hour. Summer is officially over!
When I first arrived here, I heard about the total mass exodus of expats from Shanghai during the summer. If you're foreign, have children and are able to - you leave - for months if you can. It all sounds a bit decadent at first but after I did Summer 2014 in Shanghai, I swore never again. It's 40 degrees, 100% humidity, the pollution sticks to the sweat in your hair, there are still no parks, the schools are closed, everyone is gone. In summer, the Chinese to French person ratio in my neighborhood skyrockets and the sock-less Vespa riders disappear from the roads. So, this year, we left too.
The prospect of two months of clean air made me happy to unprecedented proportions. So much so that I was willing to do that journey again - you know the day-time one that I do on my own with the two boys that lasts 13 hours and then the Heathrow transfer and then another hour long flight? Yeah, that one. Mr Oh looked a bit terrified for me as he waved goodbye to us at the airport. He was following us a month later. No, I didn't feel sorry for him. He had a month of partying, fabulous dinners, lie-ins and lazy weekends to look forward to. I had a month of laundry, and solo-parenting ahead of me, plus that awful journey. In reality, he appeared to do rather little partying and spent his weekends sitting forlornly on the sofa playing his guitar into the middle-distance.
And the journey was fine. Once you accept that you will spent 13 hours being bitten and crawled upon by a 10 month old, wrangling three people into a dirty plane toilet at regular intervals, bribing an almost 3 year old with snacks and endless TV and trying to stifle the sobs of boredom and frustration that are welling up inside you like a tidal wave of volcanic emotion. Once you make your peace with that - it’s totally doable. It also makes you feel like a superhero (only when it's over though, during the actual journey you will feel like a human dishcloth - damp with sweat, fear, breastmilk and the various bodily fluids of your small children).
If anyone would like further information on flying solo with young kids, please see my earlier post here.
We had an amazing two months in Dublin, London and the south of France. Snugglepunk crawled on grass for the first time ever. Little A dug potatoes out of the garden and learned that not all dirt contains nuclear waste. We went for walks, ran over sand dunes, swam in the sea (France), paddled in the sea until our feet got headaches (Ireland), climbed walls, visited castles and playgrounds, ate food that was high-quality and healthy (Percy Pigs are made from real fruit juice) and did all the things that we can't do in China. We saw some friends - not as many as we would have liked but Snugglepunk isn't a fan of the car, much like his brother before him (see previous post on baby car-travel trauma).
I even became a Godmother for the first time (Hiya Baby T!) which was amazing. Our boys don't have a lot of experience in churches (they are, however, incredibly well behaved in Buddhist temples). After Baby T's christening, Little A ran up to me, pointed at the altar and said "I want to go up there and sing Let It Go". I said "Let's go light some candles for your great-grandmothers instead who are, at this moment, turning in their graves". Little A said "Ok, that sounds fun." He lit six candles and promptly blew them all out. I had to hold my hand over his mouth as he started to sing Happy Birthday to the lady statue. I looked over at Little A's own Godmother and sighed...she's got her work cut out for her.
Mr Oh joined us in London and we all spend the next 3 weeks jetting around Europe consuming our body weight in ice-cream and raw meat. We were able to travel back together to China although I noted that Mr Oh brought his book with him on the plane which I thought was hilarious.
So 7 weeks later, here we are. Back again. On return, we spent 7 full days tortured by jet-lag and children who tag-teamed night time waking so that I never got any sleep. Just when I thought they’d fetch a good price on Taobao, they all started sleeping again and I got bronchitis. Ah China bronchitis...it's good to be home.
Footnote: The title photo appears courtesy of the London Massive (i.e. my bro and sister-in-law). It’s not really courtesy of them because I haven’t asked them if I can use it yet. In fact, I only realized they probably took the photo when I noticed that it appeared strangely unwarped - which is unheard of in any panoramic iPhone shot that either me or Mr Oh have attempted. Our panoramas look like a bad dream. The London Massive, however, know how to work their iPhones - this is how we know it was them.
The photo itself was taken at Uisneach, the sacred and mythological centre of Ireland. We spent a morning on this hill looking at bulls and sacrificing our hangovers to the ancient gods of Ireland. (The hangovers were courtesy of my cousin Jude and her new husband Trevor who had the most amazing wedding in a field…as you do).
They're alive! Orange and Other Orange have prevailed. They lived to see another day...and then another after that. It didn't look good for them at first - they did not come into our lives in a vestibule conducive to survival. They most likely originated from a location of unsanitary, diseased and morally vacant characteristics. I hope, at least, that our home was a step up in this regard (small children are not exactly famed for their hygiene and compassion however) . The tupperware was roomy, if sparse. The locals, i.e. Little A and Snugglepunk, enthusiastic and noisy but not, it turns out, murderous.
I will confess, it nearly ended badly...for Orange anyway. They were detained uneventfully for about 48 hours in the tupperware before the fish bowl and pretty green gravel arrived. After a few minutes in their new home, I came to the conclusion that the fish bowl was totally inadequate. Ayi did not agree, she has less interest in the comfort and spacial requirements of goldfish. Mr Oh concurred with my assessment that they needed roomier digs - he has a vested interest in the survival of the goldfish. He has no interest in explaining to Little A about pet-death...he's still a bit perturbed about Little A's extensive exposure to moth genocide.
This led to another prolonged online search in Chinese for fish accommodation, hampered by the fact that the Chinese for fish bowl is annoyingly not 'fish' + 'bowl'. Searches for "fish+bowl" (yuwan) resulted in many options, if I were in the market for a ceramic bowl with a fish painted on it. I was not - we already have six bowls with fish painted on them. Unsurprisingly (because he's essentially Chinese), Little A calls these items 'fish bowls' as well. It look a while to work out that the Chinese for fish bowl is "fish+vat" (yugang). [鱼缸 for anyone who finds themselves in a similar predicament.]
So, in the interests of keeping the fish alive, I invested in a “fish vat package with landscaping”. As is often the case when I order things online in Chinese, I am never quite sure what's going to turn up. What arrived was a medium sized aquarium complete with lighting system, internal filter and pump, live plants that arrived chilled in soil and skillfully suspended in a styrofoam box by toothpicks (a set-up that's hard to convey in words so I'll just stop now rather than spend the next three paragraphs describing the plant delivery method), three types of gravel, a piece of Japanese driftwood that I had to boil first, as well as enough food, apparatus and environmental stabilizers to set up an Irish national aquarium in Shanghai. I was mildly surprised it didn't come with fish.
It look me twenty minutes just to fill the thing with water. I really should have decided where I wanted it to be located before I filled it with water, plants, gravel and driftwood. Another hour and a half later it was both filled with water AND where it should be. The floor was pretty wet and Snugglepunk had to be sanitized.
Orange and Other Orange, who seemed pretty happy in their rather traditional-looking fish bowl, were a bit resistant to the move but I caught them with my fish net and they didn't really have much say in the matter. The Shanghai branch of the Irish National Aquarium was open for business and I was very pleased with how everything worked out.
About three hours after the official launch, I was walking past and took a quick glance into the tank. I saw Other Orange but didn't immediately see Orange. I stepped a bit closer, thinking he might be behind a plant or under the driftwood, but there was no sign. Just to get a better look, I got really close and peered over the top of the tank down into the water to see if I could locate Orange. I heard a faint smacking sound and, in horror, I realised what had happened.
Screaming "Help me, somebody help me" in a totally hysterical and melodramatic fashion (as is my way), I frantically pulled the writing desk, upon which the tank stood, back from the wall. I now must apologise to my friend, Jill, who up until then had been sipping tea in my living room and, at that moment, possibly thought that I'd lost an arm rather than just a fish judging from the way she leapt off the sofa.
As the desk was pulled back, Orange came into view, wriggling and dusty on the floor with fear blazing in his eyes. Ever calm and cool-headed in emergency situations, I continued to shriek and wail loudly while scooping Orange off the floor in the net and flopping him back into the tank where he retreated to a corner, pulled all his fins in and sat stonily, looking deeply traumatised and still draped in cobweb. Jill was not optimisitc. "I don't think he's going to make it", she said. I gave her a withering look but did concede that it was probably the fish equivalent of jumping out of an eternity pool on the 83rd floor of a luxury hotel onto the pavement.
I then did what any decent, fish-loving person would do after such a trauma...I put a magazine over the top of the tank and went out to lunch. When I came back, Orange was still alive. He even looked a bit more chipper although he was still draped in strands of cobweb - lest we forget.
The next morning, I took the magazine off and brought the water level down by another two inches. I fed the fish, spoke to them and had a peek into the tank every 20 minutes or so to check that Orange hadn't had another go. By the end of the day, I felt confident enough to step down the suicide watch. By the following morning, Orange had managed to lose his trail of cobwebs and was back to looking relatively healthy and content.
It just goes to show, large aquarium cannot buy fish happiness. I'm pretty sure Confucius said that.
It was Children's Day in China yesterday. I'm always suspicious of these types of 'festivals'. It usually means Little A will come home from school with some kind of unusual gift. I was not wrong. Yesterday, when I picked him up, I was presented with a bag of decorative face clothes and two goldfish. I don't think the two were connected. I preferred it when they gave us insect repellant.
The fish were housed in a small, lidless jar - pretty cramped and precarious living conditions, even by goldfish standards, which I imagine is a low bar anyway. The problem of how to get them home seemed to be the first of many fish-related hurdles I was going to have to face that day. Unless, of course, I fell at the first hurdle after which there would be no further hurdles…apart from the explain-to-the-almost-3-year-old-about-death-hurdle. Yikes.
Given that I was in charge of carrying Snugglepunk on my back and pushing Little A in the pram...the welfare of the fish was left in the shaky and whimsical hands of a fickle pre-schooler with a penchant for pouring water out of things. It was a slow journey home, punctuated by cries of "I wanna kiss the fish" and "Ooops".
The pavements of Shanghai are no place for goldfish. There are whizzing motorcycles, loose paving stones and unexpected slanty parts - not to mention a large wide-eyed child threatening to drink your environment. At one point, Little A buckling under the tedium of responsibility, quietly reached his arm out over the side of the pram, lowering the jar towards the pavement where he presumably planned to abandon it without fanfare or ado somewhere between the Bank of China and the KFC. Thankfully, I was alerted to his plan by the fact that he had not threatened to pet the fish in several seconds and was able to whisk the jar out of his hand just before contact with the ground was made.
Little A, unmoved by my daring rescue, looked up lazily and said "Mama, you hold fish" as he spent the rest of the journey home lounging in the pram with his hands behind his head outlining the various things he expected me to procure for him that afternoon..."Ice-cream, two cakes, some Peppa Pig, a bicycle, three hugs and wine".
I spent the rest of the journey pretending I was a contestant in The Crystal Maze - holding open-water fish in one hand, pushing a pram with the other while a 10kg creature with teeth alternates bouncing, squealing and biting on my back and the 18 kg creature in the pram uses his feet against the wheels to cause the pram to veer sharply in one direction and then the other. The air was humid. My hair was in my eyes and I was running low on affection for both child and fish.
On arrival at home, Snugglepunk scampered off under a table in search of dropped crumbs of Play-Doh to lick off the floor. Little A headed off into the kitchen in search of wine. I should perhaps note at this stage that we have convinced Little A that prune juice is wine and he has become quite the connoisseur with the added advantage of regular bowel movements. I'm sure that this is atrocious parenting but I'm not sorry....although I do wish he would stop demanding wine from people in restaurants and shops. I think they just assume we’re French.
Anyway, I found myself standing alone in the living room holding a jar of goldfish and with no notion what I was supposed to do with them or how I was supposed to feed them. I filled a tupperware container (the one I usually use for Corn Flakes, but will probably no longer use for Corn Flakes) with water and slotted the fish and their temporary hostel into the bookshelf. I'd like to think it's out of Little A's reach but that would underestimate his ability to pile stools on top of each other and climb on top of them. I have yet to find anywhere in the apartment that is actually out of his reach.
I spent the next hour frantically trying to buy fish food and a fish bowl online while dinner went uncooked and children went untended to. By the time the bowl and food get here, the fish - who Little A has named "Orange" and "Other Orange" - will probably be dead and I will have an unwanted fish bowl on my hands. Maybe I can use it to store Corn Flakes?
On waking this morning, I went to check on Orange and Other Orange. They're still alive, surprisingly. Little A spent five minutes tapping on the side of their tupperware and shouting "Hello fishies" at them before he left for school so I doubt they're long for this world.
Monday, 25 May 2015 Filed in: Shanghai | Snugglepunk | Little A | Mr Oh
My soul is a cultural wasteland. I don't read books that were written more than five years ago. I hate the theatre (one-man plays, in particular, make me want to claw at my brain). I don't see the point in concerts - if I want to listen to Chopin, I'll do it from my kitchen while drinking wine and eating leftover Shepherd's Pie. To Mr Oh's dismay, I don't even like gigs, unless there are seats, and wine. I'm not fond of museums or galleries (no seats, no wine). I quite like old churches (seats and sometimes wine), but that's about the limit of things I'll traipse out to look at. My cultural aversion is such that I may be the only person to visit Beijing and not bother going to the Great Wall. We did go to Tiananmen Square - big square, not much to see. And we stood outside the Forbidden Palace (I took a wild guess that seats and wine were not among the forbidden enjoyments inside).
In Shanghai, there isn't much to see by way of culture anyway. The city itself is the attraction - the people, the alleyways, the buildings, the street food, the smells...ok, maybe not the smells...but the rest of it is pretty great. Mr Oh is a bit more into seeing 'stuff' than I am and a few weeks ago, in a rare show of spousal compliance, I agreed to accompany him to the Shanghai Museum to look at stuff. There were a lot of vases. And people looking at vases. It did not change my opinion on museums, or vases.
But, there is one museum that I have been waiting a long time to visit - the newly opened Shanghai Natural History Museum. If there is one thing that will make me leave the house with two children before 8am on a weekday, it's a building full of dinosaur bones and stuffed monkeys. There aren't many things happening in Shanghai that appeal to an almost 3-year-old boy - so tales of long queues and massive crowds be damned - we were going to the Natural History Museum whether it was any good or not.
In my experience of Chinese museums, the verdict tends to fall more heavily on the 'not' side of things. China has a particular skill when it comes to tourism fail. I once visited a limestone cave somewhere in Jiangsu Province to find that it was covered in pink neon strip lighting. Places of interest are rammed with gabbling tour groups, the members of which are so busy documenting their experience that they forgot to have the experience in the first place. If you don't have a video of it, it didn't happen. Chinese tourists also seem to be of the view that if there aren't another 15,000 people doing the same thing as you, at the same time, it's probably not worth doing, or videoing.
We tend to avoid anything touristy in China - partly because it's always aiming for, but never quite being, any good. And partly because Little A and Snugglepunk usually become the attraction, and without swift intervention, get swallowed by a sea of people, documenting them, touching their heads and trying to pose for photos with them. Only yesterday, a woman in a park got quite angry with me because I refused to let her hold Snugglepunk, as if he were some kind of communal baby I was failing to share with her. And the day previously, as Mr Oh and Little A were crossing the road, a man crossing in the opposite direction reached down and touched Little A's face as he walked past, like rubbing a good luck charm. He's lucky Little A didn't bite him. He's lucky I didn't bite him. He's particularly lucky that Mr Oh didn't notice it happening. I'm going to have to consider hanging a sign around their necks...No Touching or Feeding The Foreign Babies.
Anyway, we were willing to brave the early morning start, the unwanted attention, the queues, the crowds, the public toilets, the likelihood that it would be terrible - all in the name of culture, stuffed monkeys and Little A's love of dinosaurs.
We got there half an hour after it opened. The queue was long, snaking back and forth in front of the building (which was pretty swish and fancy). Now if there's one thing the Chinese do not like doing, it is forming an orderly queue. Everyone's a queue hopper and we had only been in the queue for a few seconds before people started pushing past us towards the front. I stuck out my elbows and gave one pushy granny a good dig in the ribs. Undeterred, she plowed on past me and I was, at that moment, unwilling to take her down with a full force body slam. She was probably 90 so I would have had an unfair advantage. But the next guy wasn't getting away so easily. I put my arm out as he tried to sidle past me and in my best angry Chinese said 'Nuh-uh Mister, get to the back of the queue'. He was apologetic (I hate it when they do that, it ruins my flow) and was like 'I'm terribly sorry but I have to get there" pointing to some people ahead of me. I was still a bit suspicious and questioned him 'You got some pengyous in the queue ahead'. He nodded furiously "Yes, my wife and son". Wife and son were waving at me at this stage. Darn - I thought - as I waved him past - I'm too soft for this. Just as I was pumping myself up with an internal pep talk on the importance on being firm with the queue dodgers, a fight broke out behind me. One old lady was pushing another one into the railings and kicking her feet as she tried to sneak down the line. I was quite relieved. I'm not cut out for assaulting the elderly.
The queue moved surprisingly fast and we were through the front doors in no time. There was a totally ineffectual and token security check as is customary wherever groups of people gather in China. There's a lot of waving around of metal detectors and patting down of bags without any real purpose. It's always unclear to me what they are looking for...semi-automatic machine guns perhaps. You'd probably root those out in a bag pat.
The new Natural History Museum is a pretty impressive building. It's all glass and shiny and no one is spitting on the floor. There's English everywhere and big sign saying "Extrance" (seriously, you spend millions on a state of the art fully bilingual museum, with totally perfect English at all the exhibits, and a big Extrance sign over the door....sigh).
After that though, it was actually very good. I mean, it was totally mobbed naturally but it was really impressive. There were realistic life size dinosaur models that moved and roared so Little A spent much of the visit screaming and wailing 'I wanna go home' and 'Don't let the dinosaur eat me!'. There was one random floor where a sad little canteen sold illuminous mystery meat on a stick and viscous liquids of indeterminate composition which reminded me that I was still in China, but other than that, it was a top class international offering. So often when reading reviews of hotels or attractions on TripAdvisor, you see phrases like 'It was pretty good, by Chinese standards' or 'The zoo wasn't totally depressing...there was a nice bench and one of the penguins seemed relatively healthy'. So, it's nice to see somewhere that really is good. Not just China good - but actually good. Yeah there were still masses of people walking around with their smartphones stuck in front of their faces videoing the whole thing and there was one particularly boring exhibit on the native wildlife of the Shanghai area (presumably before the only wildlife were rats and over-dressed poodles) which had the familiar dated and slightly faded feel of other Chinese museums (it was strangely comforting)...but there were all kinds of animals and dinosaurs and loads of bones and enough stuffed monkeys to make a taxidermist cry.
I was exhausted. Mr Oh was delighted. Little A was traumatised. Snugglepunk was fairly unfazed. We would totally go again. Early.
My friend Sabrina is scared of butterflies and moths. I have to admit, I have not always thought this the most rational of phobias. Sabrina has held my hand as I've yelped my way through turbulent flights without batting an eyelid, but I've seen her shudder at a butterfly motif on a purse. I now think she was on to something.
My story began six weeks ago. I was looking for icing sugar at the back of (my incredibly well stocked) food cupboard. My hand came across something webby and sticky. I immediately thought...tarantula!.. and had fleeting visions of it scampering up my arm and under my jumper. The fact that tarantualas neither scamper nor build webs was irrelevant.
Unwilling to leave the tarantula colony in the food cupboard indefinitely, I had a cleanout. I found an ancient opened packet of peanuts that appeared to be covered in small cocoons. I had a little peep in and a few small moths fluttered out and into the kitchen. Relief washed over me. Moths are fine, I thought. I can totally do moths. Oh, the stupidity.
Obviously, I threw out the offending peanut package and transferred anything already opened into those airtight lockable plastic containers. I bleached the cupboard and off I went on my merry and vaguely smug way.
I saw a few moths the next day, maybe one or two. I dispatched them to the moth-afterlife. The following day, I found a few more buzzing around the kitchen and then the next day, even more. I decided I needed to call a man with some kind of moth death chemical...so Ayi and the insect man were left to sort out the problem while I went out for a walk with Snugglepunk. I really thought it was that easy…and that I would arrive back to a moth-free apartment. It never occurred to me that I can’t always just hire people to fix things for me. Apparently there are some things I need to sort out myself. Is that the moral here?…Although you have to wonder what Beyoncé does when she has pantry moths.
On reflection, leaving Ayi with the insect man was a bad idea. He just sprayed some 'medicine' in the cupboard and said that my food was too old and needed to be thrown out. When you have spent six hours surfing the internet in Chinese for a packet of self-raising flour, you are reluctant to then part with the self-raising flour unnecessarily and without a good fight.
But the moths kept coming. I took each container out of the cupboard and checked the seal and contents for moth eggs, or cocoons or anything. I took all the dishes and plates out and put them through the dishwasher. But every time I opened that cupboard I would find small moths hanging out on my Le Creuset ramekins as if they were beach loungers.
And then they started popping up in other parts of the kitchen, in other cupboards, cupboards without any food in them. I went to Google for answers. Mistake. I was inundated with desperate accounts from people who were losing the battle with pantry moths, who had to sell their houses or gut their kitchens. I started panicking.
As I panicked, the moths kept coming. Little A and I would chase them around the house swatting them with tea towels. Mr Oh knew there was a problem when, one evening, Little A (who has eyes like a hawk) shouted "Moff Mommy! Kill it!! Kill de moff! Look, Daddy, moff dead". I got a stern look and was forbidden from further involving the toddler in my pursuit of moth genocide.
The moffs were everywhere. I wouldn't see any all day and then could walk into the kitchen at about 5pm in the evening and count ten or so on the walls and cupboards. Sometimes Mr Oh would come home after the children were in bed, and find me perched on a stool in the kitchen with the tea towel in hand as my eyes flickered from wall to wall, cupboard to cupboard. Sometimes he would come home to find me taking apart the whole kitchen and stuffing everything that would fit into the dishwasher and spraying everything else with bleach. But the moths kept coming.
Then about two weeks ago, I gave in. Broken by the moths that would not die, I agreed to get rid of all my pantry items. I cried as I poured hundreds of euro worth of hard-to-find grains, flours, seeds and other dried goods into the bin. I felt a little bit better about it when I found a moth cocoon nesting in the organic baby pasta I had hand carried back from Ireland in my suitcase (luckily had not fed it to Snugglepunk yet…)
We put everything through the dishwasher again. Ayi was confident that the moth problem was over - she had been harrassing me for weeks to throw out the grains (she just doesn't appreciate how hard it is to find almond flour in China).
She was wrong though...the moths kept coming, although they weren't in the food cupboard anymore. They were somewhere else but I don’t know where…I had cleaned and washed everything. I even cleaned each slat in the window blinds, one by one. Every cupboard and surface was emptied, it’s contents washed and its surfaces bleached.
I killed every single moth I saw, on sight. Little A would shout "Chongzi!" whenever he saw one (Chinese for insect) and then I would have to usher him out of the kitchen while I "helped the moff to sleep".
Did you know that one female pantry moth can lay up to 400 eggs? No? I did. So when I saw two moths getting it on, on the ceiling above my fridge last week, I was overcome with fear and rage. I stood on a stool and swatted at them. They tumbled together behind the fridge. I imagined 400 moth cocoons colonising the dusty spaces behind my fridge. Mr Oh and I moved the fridge and used flashlights to search for the remains of what Mr Oh had at this stage dubbed the Romeo and Juliet moths. We hoovered and bleached. No sign of the love-moths. Eventually they were spotted (still engaged in procreation) on another part of the wall. They are no more. My home was saved from their particular plague of offspring.
Was that the end of the moths? No. The moths kept coming. But they came less and less frequently. I haven't seen any in two days now (will probably find six tonight just because I said that).
So, the moral of the story is keep all your dried goods in air-tight containers and don't make fun of your friends who have stupid phobias. If you ever see a small moth in your kitchen...kill it, throw out everything you own and bleach the bejaysus out of everything else. Or move house.